ASWWU caving adventure

WWU students visit lava caves with ASWWU Outdoors

Students from Walla Walla University traveled to Gifford Pinchot National Forest on Nov. 10-11 for a weekend of cave exploration. The trip was organized by ASWWU Outdoors, an active division of the Associated Students of Walla Walla University.

The group met in Trout Lake, Washington, on Friday and enjoyed an evening of pizza, board games, and ukulele serenades. On Saturday, students were given hard hats and hiked through snow-covered forest to the entrance of Mile Long Cave, an extinct lava tube. Though typically rare in the Cascades, lava tubes abound in the Trout Lake region. These caves, which drain lava away from volcanoes during eruptions, become extinct when the lava flow stops and the rock cools, leaving long open tunnels.

The entrance to Mile Long Cave led over a mossy brink and down a steep slope of jumbled stones before finally opening up into the the lava tube proper. The floor of the tunnel was raised in ripples and waves--reminders of the stone’s fluid past. The ceiling was crisscrossed with dripping fissures and spotted with small stalactites and myriad glittering minerals.

The absolute darkness of the cave made a lasting impression on many of the spelunkers. Kristen Cottrell, junior English major, recalls, “It was really fun to have everyone turn out their head lamps and see just how dark it was. You really truly couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.” Students celebrated the Sabbath in the dark by turning off their lights and organizing impromptu worship and music in the cave.

Students visited several more caves throughout the day, some of which were wide and spacious, and others which were tight and narrow. As Alex Aamodt, senior English and Spanish double major and head of ASWWU Outdoors, explains, “There was a little bit of everything, from cathedral like tunnels to tight belly crawls.”

The trip was organized by Aamodt and the ASWWU Outdoors team. Aamodt describes the organization’s mission as being, “to give students the opportunity to explore, learn, and connect in the outdoors. We hope to raise the awareness for outdoor possibilities in our region and to show the value in continuing to expand the opportunities for WWU students to experience and learn in the outdoors.”

Trips organized by ASWWU Outdoors are open to all current WWU students and offer unique opportunities to explore the Pacific Northwest while fostering friendships that strengthen and enrich the WWU community.

“I have been thrilled to see the growth of our ASWWU Outdoors team over the past few years.  Under our current leadership, they have expanded the opportunities for our students, and have focused on ensuring that there are events for all skills levels,” said Hilary Catlett, ASWWU sponsor and dean of students.

The next ASWWU Outdoors event will be a Moonlight Ski/Snowshoeing trip on Dec. 1-2. For more information, visit

Posted on Nov. 21, 2017

WWU student poses in the snow in front of a cave.
Students enter Mile Long Cave, an extinct lava tube.
Several WWU students climb down into a cave.
The descent into Cheese Cave. Early settlers in the region noted the cave's cool, constant, temperature and stored cheese here.
Darkness engulfs students as they venture further into the cave.
Students explore Mile Long Cave. The ceiling eventually got so low that they needed to army crawl forward.